Rewrite of an oldie
The Field Guide to North American Birds
As soon as I learned to walk, my mother
took me out of the house in dawdling tours
of our neighborhood skies, me barefoot and her
in pink tennis shoes: the simple kind that
were popular back then, not good for running.
She was trying to introduce me to birds:
the Purple Finch, Red-bellied Woodpecker,
Steller’s Jay, Evening Grosbeak, Northern
Cardinal, Mountain Wren, Yellow-throated Warbler --
the seed-eaters, the sap-suckers and those with
beaks like knives, the better to pry at shrinking grubs.
Their names were exotic to me, full of color,
odd vowels and places I had never been.
Starling sounded like a tiny star, black,
whose call might be a bright scream.
She was creating them, my mother, as she gave
each a name, and explained how different they were
from us: lungs that never exhaled in sighs, bones that floated
hollow, and hearts that beat a thousand times a minute.
It was on this walk under telephone wires
that rang with house wrens
I first saw it: the envy in my mother’s eyes
of things that were free.